Friday, October 19, 2007

Lessons From the Fish

When I am in in Israel, I always spend some time in the north, in Tiberias. My friend Steve and I like to stay at a particular hotel right on the Sea of Galilee. We have our morning rituals there, and one of them is to feed bread to the fish in the Sea.

Every morning, we have breakfast in the hotel, and we take leftover bread from the buffet to feed our fish friends. Oddly enough, these particular fish LOVE to eat bread. I've seen the restaurant workers, at the end of the day, dump huge bags full of stale bread into the sea... and the fish gobble it up.

During one of our fish feeding experiences, I noticed an interesting phenomenon in the 'fish world' that holds some meaning for us humans. When we toss pieces of bread into the water, the fish go after the bread with enthusiasm and a lot of competition. In fact, it often turns in to a literal 'feeding frenzy.' They take bites of the pieces of bread until it disappears.

On this particular day, I noticed that there was something white in the water... a small piece of something... floating. It was obviously not edible, because the fish, in a group, surrounded it and took turns trying to eat it. As soon as one would get it entirely into its mouth, he (or she) would let it go. Yuck! Not food! But the group of fish continued to take turns 'trying' to eat it.

Every once in a while one fish would take off with this item and disappear far below the water's surface. The fish mob would disband. Then, suddenly the object would float up to the top and reappear on the surface of the water. Spat out by yet another fish, but this time, the fish had gone on about their business and were not there waiting to try and grab it next. The object would float there, pretty much unnoticed, until one fish would start to poke at it. Then, the other fish would come swarming... and the process would begin again.

When one fish wanted it... all the fish wanted it. It didn't matter if it was NOTHING. All the fish tried and tried (again) to eat something that was NOT food!! When nobody was poking at it... there was no frenzy. But when one fish noticed it and by his or her actions indicated that it might be something desirable... all the other fish joined in the frenzy to try to make it their own.

We see this all the time in human nature. Something that essentially has no real value... is valued by someone... and suddenly everyone wants it! Think fads... think materialism... think supply and demand... think anything that people copy other people's behavior around. We do it all the time. It is so easy to get lured into thinking that something has value because others think it has value.

On the flip side of the coin, the things that truly do have value are often forgotten because other people aren't swarming around them, making them appear desirable. It is an interesting phenomenon... in fish... and, in people.

To follow the frenzy, or seek a true path. I believe that is a choice we make on a daily basis. Our challenge is to not be deceived by the appeal something has to others. Thinking for ourselves and choosing wisely is up to us.

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